published Monday, March 12th, 2012

Battle begins to lure Civil War tourists to Chattanooga

VIsitors stop to see Wilder Tower Saturday in the Chickamauga Battlefield.
VIsitors stop to see Wilder Tower Saturday in the Chickamauga Battlefield.
Photo by Tim Barber.

LOCAL CIVIL WAR TIMELINE


1861

April 12 -- War begins at Fort Sumter

June 8 -- Tennessee secedes

1862

February -- Grant captures Fort Henry and Fort Donelson

April 6-7 -- Battle of Shiloh

April 12 -- Great Locomotive Chase from Kennesaw to Ringgold, Ga.

April 24 -- Siege at Bridgeport begins

1863

Sept. 19-20 -- Battle of Chickamauga

Oct. 28 -- Engagement at Wauhatchie in Hamilton, Marion and Dade counties

Nov. 23 -- Battle of Orchard Knob

Nov. 25 -- Battle of Missionary Ridge

Nov. 27 -- Battle of Ringgold Gap

1864

Feb. 22-27 -- Battle of Dalton

Feb. 24-25 -- Battle of Tunnel Hill

May 4 -- Sherman begins advance toward Atlanta

May 7-13 -- Battle of Rocky Face Ridge

May 13-15 -- Battle of Resaca

May 25-26 -- Battle of New Hope Church

June 27 -- Battle of Kennesaw Mountain

Aug. 14-15 -- Second Battle of Dalton

Sept. 2 -- Sherman captures Atlanta

Nov. 15 -- Sherman begins March to the Sea

Dec. 15-16 -- Confederate Army of Tennessee defeated at Nashville

Dec. 21 -- Sherman reaches Savannah

1865

Jan. 31 -- U.S. Congress approves the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery

April 9 -- Gen. Robert E. Lee surrenders to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant

Sources: National Parks Service, Tunnel Hill Heritage Center, Dalton Convention and Visitors Bureau, historyplace.com, seigeatbridgeport.com

With this year's and next year's 150th anniversary of the Civil War actions near and in Chattanooga, the new battle is one for history-vacation dollars.

As the Civil War sesquicentennial swings into high gear, park and tourism officials hope for record numbers of visitors at the nation's oldest Civil War military park -- the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. Superintendent Cathy Cook says it just might be possible, judging from last year's 1,026,699 visitors.

"The last time we had hit over a million visitors was 1998," Cook said.

Even as recession slowed travel and recreation in recent years, a new National Park Service report shows that in 2010 the park had just under a million visitors, who spent $49.3 million at the park and in communities nearby.

The trickle-down tourism from visitors to the military park's 17 sites and reservations in Tennessee and Georgia supported 724 jobs in the region, according to the report.

The numbers are a far cry from the park's early numbers.

In 1934, for instance, 44,261 people checked out the more than 1,400 historical monuments erected there since the park was founded in 1895.

Sesquicentennial events already have begun in Tennessee. At the end of March a weeklong anniversary of the Battle of Shiloh will end with luminaria placed around the battlefield to represent the 23,746 soldiers killed, wounded or reported missing there.

Locally, the commemorations will get on track next month to remember the April 12, 1862, "Great Locomotive Chase" from Kennesaw, Ga., to Ringgold.

Cook said park officials are planning an Andrews' Raiders bus tour.

The park also is planning events this fall and next for the 149th -- and in 2013 the 150th -- anniversary of battles for Chattanooga.

And later this year, park officials will debut a new park film about Chattanooga's Civil War importance.

"The [current] film was completed in the 1990s, so it's close to 20 years old," Cook said. "We'll have a late November or early December premiere, and we'll begin showing it in the park's visitor center in January of 2013."

THE HISTORY

While the railroads made Chattanooga prosperous, they also made it a military target, according to Jim Ogden, historian for the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.

"Almost every community of the Chattanooga area was a battlefield," Ogden said, adding that 25 principal Civil War engagements occurred in Hamilton, Catoosa and Walker counties.

The Union and Confederate armies fought a massive battle along Chickamauga Creek just south of Chattanooga on Sept. 19-20, 1863. The Confederates pushed Union forces back into their defenses in downtown Chattanooga and strangled them there for nearly two months. Starvation was a real danger for the men and their horses.

Finally, in late October, 1,600 Union troops floated dozens of makeshift pontoon boats under cover of darkness around Moccasin Bend. They landed on the Confederate side of the river and captured Browns Ferry. At the same time Union troops marched from Stevenson, Ala., into Wauhatchie Valley, freeing the supply line to reinvigorate and send help to the Union Army.

A month later, the Union attacked and defeated Confederate troops stationed on Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge.

Just as the Civil War became a watershed event in the nation's history by moving the country closer to the intent of its founding documents, the battles for control of Chattanooga marked a turning point in the Union's quest of Southern strongholds, Ogden said.

"If the Confederacy had been able to defend itself more thoroughly, the war might have ended with a negotiated settlement that could have left, for another day's fight, the institution of slavery intact," he said.

"The battles for Chattanooga changed the fate of that Southern defense. They turned Chattanooga into a giant operating base to send Sherman's forces south to Atlanta and Savannah."

Along the way, the Union troops took over or destroyed ammunitions-building saltpeter mining operations in Nickajack and Sauta caves in Southeast Tennessee and Northeast Alabama; a copper-mining facility in Copperhill, Tenn., that supplied resources for cannon-making; and a gun-making foundry near Rome, Ga.

"As the South's military complex grew, it became more important for the North to destroy, and the only way to do that was to come to Chattanooga" and control both the river and the rail lines, Ogden said.

THEN AND NOW

The region's Civil War history has perhaps never been as celebrated as it will be in the coming years as the 150th anniversaries of the 1863 Chickamauga and Chattanooga battles approach.

The war -- and the Union soldiers it transplanted here -- helped industrialize Chattanooga. Many, including some wealthy men with backgrounds in coal, iron, textiles and saddleries, moved back when peace returned.

Cook said the park's formation just before the turn of the 20th century shows that residents here saw the importance of preserving the historic landscape, but many present-day residents may lose sight of its meaning and value.

"It's so much a part of the character of Chattanooga and Chickamauga and this part of Georgia and Tennessee that as you drive through the monuments, you take it for granted. But it's very unusual, and people nationally are recognizing that and coming here because of that," she said.

State and local tourism officials have recognized the possibilities.

Shelda Spencer Rees, director of tourism for the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau, worked with state officials to get the state of Tennessee's Civil War Trail brochure completed and to get 13 signs in the ground in Chattanooga.

The brochures are available online at www.tnvacation.com.

Cook believes growing interest in family history will make the park's sesquicentennial even more successful.

"It's such a human story," she said of that ancestry and Civil War connection.

"We understand the battle tactics and what happened here, but what I think truly interests people are the human stories related to their ancestors, and being able to walk the battle lines where their ancestors would have walked.

"The fact that this landscape has been preserved, and they are able to do that, I think, is truly significant," she said.

about Pam Sohn...

Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...

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